Drive south on Montopolis Drive, turn left at Burleson Road near McCoy’s Building Supply and warehouses for Goodwill and the Central Texas Food Bank.
You’ll find yourself near Austin’s new Hurricane Harvey mega-shelter, where as many as 2,000 Gulf Coast flooding evacuees will sleep on cots for weeks or months in a maze of office parks and industrial warehouses.
City employees worked late into the night Thursday to outfit the first phase of the site with some 600 cots, laid out in 8-foot by 3.5-foot rectangles marked on the concrete floor with masking tape. Next door, an unfinished space is being outfitted with air conditioning and lights within the next week, in order to bring the shelter capacity up to 2,000.
Friday morning, buses began transporting the 419 evacuees remaining in six other shelters to the mega-shelter, which the city plans to be a singular location for evacuee response. The state has revised the number of evacuees it expects Austin to receive from 7,000 to about 2,000.
The Austin City Council voted Thursday to lease the space at $112,740 per month, instead of putting evacuees in the downtown Austin Convention Center, as was first planned. There’s no telling how long people, many of whom have no habitable homes to return to, could end up staying there, but the city can lease the space for up to eight months.
“No one’s going to get forced out,” said city spokesman David Green.
There’s a room where city EMTs and Central Health medical teams will operate a clinic. Security personnel and public information officers share a room, with a gun safe for anyone who fled with a firearm. Air conditioned tents in the front parking lot will hold people’s dogs and cats. Meals will be served in the back parking lot, also in tents.
There are rows of portable toilets and shower trailers. Mobile command posts for police and firefighters line the parking lot.
That parking lot, which will eventually hold FEMA trailers helping people transition to longer term help, is one of the reasons city staff opted to move mega-shelter preparations from the convention center, which housed thousands after hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008. Staff would not say whether any convention plans played a role in the decision, though interim City Manager Elaine Hart acknowledged it was a consideration.
The new mega-shelter site is isolated, nearly a mile and a half to the nearest food joint (Jack in the Box), four miles to the nearest grocery store and two to three miles to the nearest city park.
Capital Metro is adding a bus stop at the shelter on its 228 line, spokeswoman Mariette Hummel said Friday. That bus will run every 35 minutes over the weekend and double frequency to every 17 minutes next week. Cap Metro will distribute maps showing bus routes and transfer stations to get to services such as stores and medical facilities, Hummel said.
Getting from Montopolis and Burleson to downtown on the bus takes 40 minutes to an hour with one to two bus changes, according to Cap Metro’s trip planner.
The city will set up a shuttle to government resources that are needed, Green said. Alternately, some people may have their own cars, or can use other common transportation options.
“People can Uber and Lyft from out here,” he said.